I’d like to begin this discussion with a message: Today, on the whole, the story being told by churches across our continent is not that of the God of eternity planning and executing the redemption of people through His Son, Jesus Christ, to the praise of His glorious grace that they may dwell with Him in holiness and inherit the kingdom. Instead, the mantra that is repeated over and over again is one of “moralistic therapeutic theism.” This may be a new term for some, but it’s pretty simple to understand. At its core, moralistic therapeutic theism (MTT) means that we want everyone to be good citizens, happy and content with ourselves and in our relationships, and we know that we need God’s help to accomplish this.
On the surface, MTT doesn’t seem to be a bad idea at all. It seems to be in line with what the Bible teaches, right? Well, not really. The problem with MTT is that Christ and His cross are not central—we insist on being the center of all things and only require God to help us get to where we are going. Honestly, once we “arrive at our destination,” He will quickly be sidelined and forgotten. And if we could get there without Christ, we would also consider that option—none of us, in our natural state, want to be told what to do.
As Michael Horton has written, “Christless Christianity does not mean religion or spirituality devoid of the words ‘Jesus,’ ‘Christ,’ ‘Lord,’ or even ‘Savior.’ What it means is that the way the names and titles are employed will be removed from their specific location in an unfolding historical plot of human rebellion and divine rescue and from such practices as baptism and Communion. Jesus as life coach, therapist, buddy, significant other, founder of Western civilization, political messiah, example of radical love, and countless other images can distract us from the stumbling block and foolishness of ‘Christ and him crucified.’”
As we then engage our culture with what we think is the gospel, we turn to our personal growth and enrichment rather than the bloodied cross of the Son of God that was necessary to wash our sins away and resurrect us from the dead. We talk about how we no longer have addictions A-B-C, our marriage is great, and we have the peace needed to face troubling times. The centrality of Christ and His rightful place as our All-in-All, our one consuming passion, has been replaced by lesser things. We unknowingly are telling our generation that it can have all it wants and continuity in its own kingdom by simply looking to Jesus for some help.
This is not the gospel. God is not willing to allow competing lovers or kingdoms in His universe. Scripture portrays the Lord as the Divine Lover who woos His bride to Himself with condescending and sacrificial love. He’s not going to permit His bride to run around on Him. The Lord jealously guards and disciplines those who are truly His … “And I will punish her for the feast days of the Baals when she burned offerings to them and adorned herself with her ring and jewelry, and went after her lovers and forgot me, declares the Lord” (Hosea 2:13). The Baals of our day more likely resemble, good health, fulfilling relationships, financial success that allows us to pursue the well-earned dividends of life. Of course we will tithe and attend church faithfully (maybe even serve a bit), but expecting more than that is unrealistic and it most definitely IS NOT a message that will attract many to our churches … uh, I mean Savior. Again, this is not the gospel. This is MTT.
Fortunately, we have not been left as orphans. The Holy Spirit is shaking and waking churches across the land by the truth of His Word. Our task at hand is to discover how deeply MTT has seeped into our thinking and way of life, and then to take the scalpel of Scripture and begin to cut it out. The achievement of the Great Commission depends on the purity of the Message, as does our very existence.
Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”
“A stone of stumbling,
and a rock of offense.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
(1 Peter 2:2-12 ESV)